What's The Difference Between Canola Oil And Vegetable Oil?

Wondering whether you should use vegetable oil or canola oil in your recipes — or just what the difference is in the first place? For starters, you should know that canola oil is a type of vegetable oil, explains Time. The latter is an umbrella term for any cooking oil derived from plants. Most vegetable oils are heavily processed, but it's possible to find better-for-you options.

Canola oil is lower in saturated fat than any other vegetable oil, notes Time. A teaspoon has just 1 gram of saturated fat, whereas the same amount of corn oil provides 1.8 grams of saturated fat (per MyFoodData). By comparison, grapeseed oil has 1.3 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. What's more, canola oil is higher in monounsaturated fats than corn or grapeseed oil. Plus, it's a good source of omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Holistic nutritionist Stephanie Kay recommends ditching all vegetable oils, including canola oil. These products contain large amounts of polyunsaturated fats and, therefore, promote inflammation. Furthermore, they are sensitive to high heat and oxidize easily. Still, the research is mixed. For example, cold-pressed or unrefined canola oil can be a healthy choice, says Time. With that in mind, here's what you should know about the differences between canola oil and vegetable oil. 

What you should know about canola oil

Canola, a plant with bright yellow flowers, grows in Europe, Canada, Australia, and other parts of the world. It belongs to the Brassicaceae family, which also includes kale, broccoli, collard greens, and other cruciferous vegetables. Its seeds are used to produce canola oil, the second most widely consumed oil worldwide, notes a 2013 research article published in the journal Nutrition Reviews.

In clinical trials, canola oil has been shown to improve blood lipids, insulin sensitivity, and glycemic control, per Nutrition Reviews. These potential benefits are largely due to its high content of monounsaturated fats. The problem is that most brands are ultra-processed, which may affect their nutritional value, says the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The same goes for other vegetable oils, including soybean, corn, and palm oil.

However, researchers agree that canola oil can be a healthy addition to most diets, depending on how you use it. Plus, it has a neutral flavor and won't overpower the taste of other foods, making it suitable for salads, baked goods, marinades, sauces, and more. WebMD also suggests using it as a substitute for butter or margarine. 

Canola oil vs. other vegetable oils: Similarities and differences

Canola oil is lower in saturated fat than other vegetable oils, but it also tends to be higher in trans fats, notes the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Trans fats can increase bad cholesterol levels, which may lead to cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and stroke, warns the American Heart Association. Even so, the unsaturated fats in canola oil may counteract these risks, as shown in the Nutrition Reviews article.

As far as health benefits go, the research is conflicting. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says that canola oil may protect against heart disease. However, in one 2011 study, this food product raised total and LDL (the "bad") cholesterol levels and reduced antioxidant status in rats, per the journal Lipids in Health and Disease. Moreover, rats fed with canola oil had a shorter lifespan than those consuming soybean oil. Given these aspects, it's best to use vegetable oils (including canola oil) in moderation.

Apart from that, both canola oil and vegetable oils have a smoke point of 400-450 degrees F and 425-460 degrees F, respectively. Therefore, they can be used interchangeably in most recipes, according to Insider. Their color, flavor, and texture are all similar. Ideally, you should opt for cold-pressed varieties and avoid overheating them. "Processed oils have been pushed past their heat tolerance and have become rancid in the processing," cookbook author Lisa Howard said to Time